I am known by some of my friends, among other things, as a guy who places far too much importance on New Year’s Eve. It has always been one of my favourite days of the year, one on which my natural inclinations toward drippy nostalgia are not only rewarded, but also expected.
On what other day are you guaranteed, no matter what, to remember what you were doing exactly one year ago? Christmas, maybe. But you often do the same things on that day every year, usually spending time with family and gossiping about that uncle who’s been married four times.
By contrast, New Year’s Eve is a social animal, and your plans change every year. Since there is no real tradition around New Year’s Eve, other than that you’re supposed to do something, it’s a new experience every time.
That we make New Year’s resolutions is one of the most charming traits human beings have. For no other reason than our dogged earnestness and naiveté, we actually believe that we get a new start. We believe that somehow — this time, this year — things are going to be different. They never are, of course, but for one night, we believe. That’s the beauty of New Year’s; it’s not a clean slate, exactly, but it’s close enough for us.
I hear people complain about New Year’s Eve, that it’s always made into a big event that ultimately disappoints, that they feel pressured to have some kind of momentously fun time. These people are sad, really, incredible dullards and whiners. Pressured to have fun? Hey, I’ll take that kind of pressure every time, no problem. I wish I was pressured to have fun every day, rather than pressured to pay the bills, pressured to hold on to my job, pressured to keep my head above water.
If you can’t relax and have fun on New Year’s Eve, well, you’ve got more problems than this blog can solve, so there is no hope for you here.
Anyway, I had this feeling that New Year’s Eve 2011 was going to be a great one. I was hoping that it would somehow involve a particular lovely lady and was already working out in my mind how the night in Camden would turn out. I figured if craziness was going to ensue, there would be no more likely place than there and the stimuli would likely be so much that either I’d have enough material for four books and an opera, or my head would just explode as my body burst into flames. Either way, it would be quite a story.
As it turned out, my mate Matt, the first person I had asked to come along, was the only one to accept. So much for my designs on the lovely lady!
Then two things happened: First, I went to America for Christmas and spent way too much money (things are so much more cheaper there, you see). This made my New Year’s planning financially inconvenient — or, to use one friend’s more efficient terminology, “fucking crazy” — and somewhat irresponsible. Still, that wasn’t enough to stop me.
What was enough to stop me was Matt. I won’t get into too much detail about Matt, since he always gets mad at me when I bring him up in my blog, but let’s just say he’s kind of, well, a paranoid recluse with tendencies toward mania (that shouldn’t offend him).
He called earlier in the week and shared his growing feeling that something horrible was going to happen in London on New Year’s Eve. Namely, “Someone’s going to release nerve gas or something. We’re all going to die.” (Cast no aspersions and draw no conclusions on Matt here, but I’d like make an observation: Anybody else notice the amount of alarm someone has over things like these is directly proportional to the amount of weed they smoke? Just a thought.)
Matt said he didn’t want to go. I attempted to talk him into it — I mean, it was just a few days before New Year’s Eve, and time was a-wastin’ — but he wouldn’t cave, so eventually, I did. I thanked him for his persistence in making me believe he was going to go and, with a sigh, began to fucking freak out about what I was going to do on the night.
I considered just going down to the Embankment to watch the incredible waste of taxpayers’ money on the release of tons of fireworks (and possibly nerve gas) that could only serve to remind London’s homeless why they’re so bloody poor. But no, I was bound and determined to have a good time, and that wasn’t good enough.
So I called Kate. My friendship with Kate is one I haven’t written much about here, since it’s a fairly recent development, pretty complicated and, well, she doesn’t want me to write about her. Kate is a nurse I first met at my birthday party just over a year ago. (I first wrote about her in Happy Birthday To Me) She’s a wonderful person, kind-hearted and loving toward her fellow human beings — I’m curious why she hangs out with me. She was going to be working until 11 p.m. on New Year’s Eve, but we nevertheless made plans to meet up after her shift and head to the bash in Camden, for which I now had an extra ticket.
It is a matter of great poetic irony — or at least something that kinda sucked — that David, Mr. New Year’s Eve, wouldn’t even start his celebration of the New Year until 11 p.m. But those were the circumstances, and I had to roll with them.
I had a few early drinks at a neighbour’s, then set off towards the city. The goal was to find a pub, quietly have a couple of drinks by myself, then head over to the hospital. We simply had to get to the party by midnight because I’d be damned if I was going to ring in the New Year while stuck on the Tube.
The first three bars I attempted to duck into all had expensive pre-planned celebrations going on, so I grumbled to myself as I walked away from the presumably riotous jubilation inside. Finally, in desperation, I stepped into a Walkabout that had free entry before 9 p.m. For those cultured people who don’t have Walkabouts in their cities, it’s a chain of Australian-themed saloons with little seating and minimal décor, where the floors are always sticky and breathing is often difficult. It was, to say the very least, not where I had anticipated spending New Year’s Eve, but at this point in the night, it would have to suffice.
I walked in — I always feel like I should say I “sauntered” in when I visit places like a Walkabout — and found immediately that, surprisingly enough, it was not nearly as packed as I’d expected. I guess they were on Down Under time, which meant the start of 2012 had already come and gone. But I won’t complain too much, since one of the girls behind the bar was very nice — she even gave me a free New Year’s party hat and blew a kiss at me when I left. And it was soon time to go, and fast. The night wasn’t what it could have been, but there was plenty of time left to salvage matters. I just had to hurry.
I flagged a cab — I was lucky to get the first one I waved at — and we sped off toward the hospital. 11:05 … 11:10 … look out there, drunk pedestrian … 11:15 … we’re here. I sprinted out the car door — at first forgetting to unbuckle my seat belt, causing a bit of unnecessary strain — and screamed toward the automatic doors at the hospital. I peeled through the hallway to the lifts, almost knocking a guy with a walker into the unrelenting path of an oncoming wheelchair, and pushed the up button about 35 times, bang, bang, bang, pounding my fist into the wall for it to reach the fucking first floor already, Christ. Ding. Push the button for the third floor, bang, bang, bang. Door closes, bang, bang, bang. Door opens. Third floor.
Scrambling, I feverishly asked the first nurse I saw if Kate was there, my eyes full of fire and determination. Thirty-five minutes to go.
“She’s down in room 235. You can go down there if you want.”
Not even pausing to thank her, I left skid marks as I flew past. I looked in the room, and there was Kate, talking to a patient’s daughter. She had a look of calm and empathy, as if the frickin’ year didn’t have just 30 minutes left in it, but the daughter was more distraught. I noticed tears in her eyes, and she released a choked-off “thank you” to Kate as she left the room. Kate had been as worried as I was about missing the clock turning midnight, but when she exited the room and noticed me, a symbol of her life away from the ill, she was as placid as could be.
“Oh, hi! Listen, I’ve got a couple more patients to check on, so just go ahead and wait at reception. I’ll be out in a sec.” She then walked down the hall, to room 237, or 243, or something, someone.
And just like that, my tension was gone. Making it to some silly bar for some silly song that no one understands the words to, it all seemed, well, it all seemed as stupid as it actually was.
The New Year is a big deal for most of us, who have the choice of heading to London for chaos, looking for wild orgies in Newcastle, or just having a quiet night at home. But for these people — our sick, our dying — spending New Year’s Eve in the neurological ward of a hospital, December 31, 2011 was just another night, a night you pray for resilience and search for any remaining strands of hope. The residents of room 235, or 237, or 243, didn’t have a disappointing New Year’s Eve; they had no chance at such luck. All they could do, with fluid draining into their bloodstream, as they breathed through a tube in their neck, was gather a small amount of family members to circle around a smelly bed in an antiseptic room and celebrate the fact that they even had this moment.
Only the healthy, the spoiled, the fortunate get to decide which fun place they’ll ring in the New Year at. Not here, not in room 235.
I know this would be a better story if we never made it out of the hospital, if I rang in 2012 by holding the hand of a crippled child and singing hymns. Well, sorry, but we eventually made it to Camden, with 10 minutes to spare. We counted down the last 10 seconds with some band called Stir, we all rocked to an unoriginal but still fun rock version of Auld Lang Syne, and I even had somebody to kiss. But if you ask me how my New Year’s Eve was, I’ll tell you it was the most fulfilling and most memorable one I’ve had in years.
Spent in a hospital, musing about room 235, thankful I had the freedom to celebrate at all, thankful I have friends and family to celebrate it with.
And I didn’t even have to avoid any nerve gas to do it.